I teach English in a yellow building on a wooded campus on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, at the American College of Sofia. This is a country facing many struggles: big ones like E.U. sanctions and organized crime, and small ones like stray dogs and haphazard garbage collection. Its hope lies in members of the future generation, and their hope lies in the possibility of new ideas.
Last week my 12th graders debated a single question – what is the most vital issue for their generation? AIDS, drugs, violence, global warming, public education, the responses ranged as broadly as each new day’s frightening headlines. They went on to brainstorm possible solutions, but it was much easier to list problems than it was to solve them. Our conversation only strengthened my belief, that we need creativity in our world. We need the potential to create solutions where none exist, to bring beauty into spaces of despair – here in Bulgaria, and all over the world.
As a teacher, giving my students chances to be creative has always been my priority. I’ve seen them perform poem raps, cry while acting out the end of Death of a Salesman, illustrate graphic novels about teenage life, and publish children’s books touting environmentalism. They have scripted and storyboarded films, designed identity mandalas, and strutted the catwalk in a 1920s literature fashion show. It is more important to me to give them these opportunities than to teach them the difference between an appositive and a hanging modifier. I want my students to be dreaming thinkers, thinking dreamers.
Dreamers like Edi Rama, mayor of the capital of Albania, who hired designers to paint the communist-made concrete blocks of his city in a rainbow of colors, since he couldn’t afford to tear them down. Dreamers like Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, and Jane Goodall. Dreamers like that famous dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr., who saw a possibility others couldn’t see.
Who will be the next great dreamers? How can we help them learn to dream?
I keep a bumper sticker up in my classroom, a quote from Ghandi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” I try to teach the change I wish to see in the world, and I believe my actions will make a difference.
In December, I showed my husband’s 8th grade students how to cut snowflakes to decorate their room for Christmas. Why bother with such things in our schools? Maybe a student who can see a piece of delicate art in a white paper circle, will one day see a way to bring together divided peoples, a new method for creating energy, a cure for cancer in a lump of dirt. If we don’t teach them to see this potential in their world, who will?
If we value creativity, creativity will save us. This I Believe.